Review: The Glass Sentence, by S. E. Grove (2014)

Glass Sentence coverWow, what a gorgeously creative book. It also managed to hit such an unlikely array of my book kinks it’s like S. E. Grove pulled them out of a hat and made a book just for me. Let’s see, we have here some steampunk, maps, time travel (sort of), Boston history, alternate universes, gardening, trains, social commentary (on immigration and jingoism, in this case), pirates, elaborate world-building, grey-area villains — and for good measure, a hot adult mentor for me to crush on while the adolescent protagonists go on about their bonding. Nobody cans any produce or sings a sea shanty, but I’ll assume that’s coming in the sequel.

I… think that about covers it, actually. If you enjoy complex middle grade fantasy, in which plot elements fit together in surprising and beautiful ways, and you don’t mind reading 500 pages of it with a sequel on the way, I encourage you to give this a try. The inventiveness of the different types of maps (no spoilers here!) is alone worth the price of admission.

Thanks for the recommendation, Mike Lewis! You were absolutely right, as usual.

Incidentally, the book contains one of the best metaphors for depression I’ve ever read. It takes the form of a monster called a Lachrima that follows people, crying: “Wherever I went, the sound of weeping followed, and the sadness began to wear on me; though I knew it had no rational cause, as long as the weeping was audible my grief was uncontrollable.” Yup, that’s pretty much what it feels like — there’s “no rational cause” but it still follows you.

Gregory Maguire reviews it in the NYTimes, if you care about his opinion more than mine for some reason.

Read-alikes: Give this to fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn trilogy, or anything else long and/or steampunky/Victorian. Then hand them The Golden Compass, if they haven’t already, because that is the closest analog I have to the feel of The Glass Sentence. (Though this book, let’s be clear, is not at the “modern classic” level of His Dark Materials. Few books are.)

Also make them read Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy (or Gullstruck Island if you’re not in the U.S.), because any kid who loves complex fantasy needs to stop whatever they’re doing and read that right now. Plain Kate would be another good read-alike, for the creepiness that sneaks in towards the end of Glass Sentence.

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